Of Clichés and the Wisdom of Elders

Writers often hear we must avoid using clichés and well-known metaphors in our writing. While that’s usually good writing advice, it can also lead writers to craft metaphors or similes that just… well, fail. (If you want a chuckle, some examples are here.)

Sometimes, those clichéd phrases or old sayings feel like the only way to convey what needs to be said.

Today, I’m feeling a lot like “the devil is in the details.” Let me unpack that a bit.

Last week, I submitted a story to an anthology. While formatting my manuscript to meet the anthology’s criteria, I became a little annoyed. The CFS outlined very detailed requirements on font size, line spacing, and so forth. A few details, like the title had to be in all caps and the last line had to be an all-caps “The End,” seemed downright nitpicky.

Their requirements reminded me of that old story about Van Halen having a line in their contract stating that no brown M&Ms could be backstage at their concerts.

While formatting my manuscript, I realized that the anthology’s details served the same purpose as Van Halen’s M&Ms clause: To ensure that writers were paying attention to the little things.

As writers, we have to manage the small details and big concepts. Juggling both takes practice. And practice, as we all probably know, includes failing. It’s when we don’t hit the mark that we learn.

Case in point, I sent a submissions cover letter with my story. I heard back quickly from the contact, and she pointed out I had provided more information in my cover letter than they had requested.

In fact, they didn’t want a formal cover letter at all. They just wanted bullet points that provided the details they’d requested.

She informed me that the extra information I included meant extra work for her because she had to strip it all from my letter before moving on to the next submission. She noted that hardly anyone required that kind of formality now. She also said I needed to be more cautious and not include personal information unless it was specifically requested.

I felt a bit stung by the tone of her reply, but I have to admit she made good points. In my excitement to submit, I didn’t manage the small details as well as I could have.

Writing, like life, is always filled with new challenges and new opportunities to learn. I need to remember that more than I do.

As many writers far wiser than I have noted: It’s not necessarily the destination that matters, it’s the journey and what we learn along the way.

(Photo by Raquel Pedrotti on Unsplash)

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